The Stagecraft of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
“…a poor player,
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
and then is heard no more…”
This quote from Macbeth is a perfect summary of the plot of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. The dramatisation of the lives of these two unremarkable and virtually extraneous characters from Hamlet is an unlikely foundation for “one of the most…engaging of post-war plays” (Daily Telegraph). However, as with Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot” the originality of Stoppard’s concept is not enough in itself to create a masterpiece and it is the brilliance of the stagecraft and writing that establishes this play as a classic.
The presentation of these two characters is an important feature of the stagecraft. Neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern ever leave the stage during the play until their deaths. They are the central focus which directly contrasts with their relative unimportance in Hamlet. The visual effect of their being dressed in Elizabethan clothing is cleverly juxtaposed with their contemporary style of speech. It is comic that their identities seem to be interchangeable; Guildenstern himself investigates this point in Act II,
Ros: (absently) What?
Ros: (irritated by the repetition) What?
Guil: Don’t you discriminate at all?
While the other characters such as Gertrude and Hamlet seem to be unsure who takes which name, the fact that they themselves are similarly confused augments this humorous idea.
How they act and what they do are both important factors in establishing their personalities and Stoppard includes comprehensive stage directions in the script.
In Act II there a...
... middle of paper ...
...ey are merely actors.
At one point in Act I, Rosencrantz stands at the edge of the stage looking at the audience and remarks that the idea of being a spectator could only be made bearable by the “irrational belief that somebody interesting will come on in a minute”. In Hamlet Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dull characters. Whatever wit they may possess pales beside Hamlet’s intelligence, they are unable to adequately spy for Claudius and their contribution to the plot is two extra corpses and a few laughs at their expense. However in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard has managed to make these characters interesting. The addition of the more three-dimensional character of the Player, several inventive uses of staging and the imaginative links with Hamlet itself establishes an original masterpiece of a play around two minor Shakespearean characters.
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